Two "Iron Man" movies, plus two interpretations of "The Hulk," plus "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" have led up to one of the most anticipated -- and teased -- superhero epics in cinematic history: "The Avengers."
Director Joss Whedon has miraculously melded together the different mythologies of these characters for a team-up that gives each character his or her due, yet still feels cohesive: a story about defeating Thor's half-brother Loki before he obliterates the Earth, now that he's gained access to the unlimited power of the Cosmic Cube, or Tesseract.
Fans worried about the end result of all of these heroes mixed together on-screen can officially breathe easy because "The Avengers" delivers on all levels, has unexpected bits of humor and is one of the choicest comic-book movies of all time. If you liked some or all of the individual superhero films that led up to "The Avengers," know that Whedon blows them all to Asgard. Yes, believers, it is truly that Marvel-ous.
1. The Long Tease for 'The Avengers' Began in 2008 Because of Samuel L. Jackson
The idea for "The Avengers" first emerged during the production of "Iron Man," when producer Kevin Feige had a notion that S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division) could be a part of both "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk." "When the idea of a Nick Fury cameo started coming up, we called Sam Jackson and he thought it was a cool idea," Feige said at a recent Los Angeles press day for the film. "It was his enthusiasm that led us to shoot that end credit scene and what he says to Tony Stark in the scene: 'You're part of a bigger universe, you just don't know it yet.' The line was also Marvel telling that to the audience as well. The promise we made to Sam was, when we got to 'The Avengers,' it would be his time to shine."
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2. S.H.I.E.L.D. Is Finally Front and Center
"Up to this point in the previous Marvel movies, S.H.I.E.L.D. has just been this shadowy organization that pops out occasionally to give some advice and goes back into hiding," said Feige. "In this film, you really see the world through the eyes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and for the first time, audiences will get to see this big organization that has a lot of resources, a lot of equipment and has been tasked with keeping the world safe." The most iconic set of the film, the Helicarrier, is the headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D. "It's basically an aircraft carrier in the sky," Whedon said. "It was always the idea of this flying fortress."
3. Pepper Potts Is the Only Superhero Girlfriend to Return for 'The Avengers'
Although "Thor"'s Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is mentioned and briefly pictured in "The Avengers," Stark Industries president Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the only superhero girlfriend to make an appearance, at the insistence of Robert Downey Jr. "I said to Joss and Kevin, 'We really need Pepper to be involved in some way,'" Downey explained. "Tony and Pepper have grown to be pretty close, and it just makes sense that she would have some kind of influence over his decision to join the Avengers team." Paltrow added, "At the end of 'Iron Man 2,' Pepper and Tony had a real kiss, which was great because they had been building it up for two films. So in 'The Avengers,' the idea is that they're heading somewhere but it hasn't, shall we say, consummated yet."
4. Hawkeye Is the Least-Seen Avenger Before 'The Avengers'
Although Jeremy Renner made a brief uncredited cameo as Hawkeye in "Thor," he doesn't shoot his first arrow on-screen until "The Avengers." Hawkeye is one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s most elite agents and the greatest living marksman. Hawkeye's bow shoots distinctive deadly silver-tip arrows, but unfortunately for S.H.I.E.L.D., Hawkeye spends the early part of the movie fighting for the wrong team thanks to the power of the Tesseract. "I got banged around every day," said Renner. "I love being beat up by Scarlett [Johansson]. Wouldn't you? I also got to play with Thor's hammer, and he got to stroke my bow [pauses]. Oh, here we go ... "
5. Captain America's Manners Make an Argument for Nurture Over Nature
"[Captain America] has to deal with the emotions of finding out that everybody he knows is dead," said Chris Evans. "Every single person he called 'brother' on a battlefield is gone, and the world around him is a different place. It's more fast-paced and impersonal because new technologies have put barriers between people. In the '40s there was much more of a direct and honest sincerity in the way people behaved, and I think human interaction helps breed manner."
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6. Aside from Being Sexy, Scarlett Johansson Is Not Like Black Widow
"Scarlett is probably the least like her character because she's so funny, delightful and just so darn cute," said Whedon. "I wanted her to play the role completely opposite of her personality because we wanted Black Widow to be a darker incarnation of who she was in 'Iron Man 2.'" Jackson added, "I want to be Scarlett. I want to be that cute for 15 minutes."
7. Hulk Funny. No, Really.
The Hulk's personality really comes through in "The Avengers" thanks to advancements in motion-capture technology and the casting of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. "Very early on, we decided to build the Hulk's face off of Mark's, not just in terms of what he was going to do movement-wise in playing the character, but also the actual physicality of it, including the bone structure and contours of the eyes and mouth," said Whedon. "We really wanted to bridge the gap between the characters so that when he turns into the Hulk, you go, 'Oh my God, that's Bruce Banner!' Only he is big and green and very angry."
Hulk likes to smash lots of evil entities in "The Avengers," but he's not above quickly popping Thor if the Nordic god pisses him off. "I was surprised that the comedy in the film plays so well," said Chris Hemsworth.
8. Agent Coulson Has a Serious Man Crush on Captain America
Clark Gregg returns as Agent Coulson, a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative who loves his job and possesses some fighting skills and a dry sense of humor. "[Agent Coulson's] relationship with Steve Rogers is one of my favorites," said Gregg. "I wanted to find some other dynamic Coulson could have with Captain America and it hit me, 'Oh my God, he's a fanboy!' Giving him a man crush on Captain America not only lent itself to some of the funniest scenes, but also established the type of relationship they had, which led to the whole trading-card run in the scene -- possibly my favorite scene in the movie."
9. Your Favorite Billionaire Philanthropist Playboy Genius Is Back the Way You Like Him
"Iron Man is a little more Han Solo than Luke," said Downey. "And he wears a Black Sabbath T-shirt for most of the shoot. He realized a while ago that he's not an island, and this time around he is beginning to understand that it's about a group mindset and that 'we' is better than 'I.' It was nice not having to carry a movie. Everyone is equal in this venture."
10. The Naked Truth About Mark Ruffalo
"My favorite moment was being naked in front of Harry Dean Stanton," said Ruffalo. Downey Jr. added, "How come it is only Harry Dean Stanton that gets to see Mark Ruffalo naked?"